Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Martyrs

Film: Martyrs
Format: DVD borrowed from a friend on The New Portable.

When I added the first three horror movie lists to this blog, I knew there were going to be some that were hard to find and some that were going to be extremely unpleasant. Martyrs is both of those things wrapped up in one grisly package. I’ve been dreading watching this, and have been kind of relieved that I hadn’t been able to get it through NetFlix. It’s the last movie on the Time Out London list, though, and so I knew I had to get to it. I requested it through interlibrary loan, when one of the librarians at a local library handed me the film—her youngest owned a copy. I’ve had it for two weeks, and it’s taken me until now to finally gut my way through it.

I’m not going to go into a great deal of plot here, because there isn’t a great deal of plot in the film. At the start, a young girl (Jessie Pham) seems to escape from somewhere terrible. We’re told eventually that it was a former abattoir-cum-torture chamber. The young Lucie grows up (and becomes Mylene Jampanoi) in the company of Anna (Morjana Alaoui). Lucie is never quite normal, though, and has frequent encounters with an emaciated and terrifying creature (Isabelle Chasse).

Years later, Lucie breaks into what looks like an expensive but otherwise normal house and kills kills the entire family with a shotgun, having linked the people to her earlier trauma. Anna arrives to help deal with the carnage and discovers once again that Lucie has been attacked by her constant apparition. It’s soon clear that Lucie is hallucinating and abusing herself. Having hoped that killing the family in the house would exorcise her demons, but it hasn’t. And then we discover that the house is hiding a terrible secret that is about to get a lot more terrible for Anna.

There’s an undeniable connection here to stories like that of Jeanne D’Arc, and not just that both of them involve the martyrdom of a young French girl. That is what is going to happen here, and it’s going to be ugly. And yet, it’s not as ugly as I expected it to be. I’m not saying this is a pleasant movie in any way. It’s not. There’s a lot of blood and a great deal of degradation. But it could be a hell of a lot worse and a hell of a lot more. For as terrible as it is, it’s almost restrained.

The central theme of the film is elucidated by someone called Mademoiselle (Catherine Begin), who tells Anna (and us) that the world can essentially be divided into two types of people—victims and martyrs. Victims are people who, like Lucie, descend into madness in the extremities of pain. Most people in her view are victims. Others are martyrs, who transcend incredible suffering, and by accepting it, gain visions of the afterlife. If you think this must be what Mademoiselle is after, you’d be right.

Martyrs has every opportunity to be gory, and it is surprisingly not. There are moments of nastiness, but I expected the last ten minutes or so to be similar to Audition, and it really isn’t. I’m not saying I want to watch it again, but it could have been much worse.

Martyrs is an ugly movie, though, and not one I relish seeing a second time. I will give it that it ends about as well as it could, though. The “revelation” at the end is exactly what it should be. The idea here is interesting, at least in theory, but it’s also terrible to contemplate.

I think Martyrs very much wants to be about a big idea, which is why so much of what is terrible about it is implied. There are odd holes in this plot, though, not the least of which is the treatment of the victims/martyrs. We have an organized group that is systematically torturing people to force them into this state of higher achieved consciousness. It would seem to me that, based on what we are shown, that our subjects very quickly show their victim/martyr status. And yet, for the victims, the tortures evidently continue. Why?

This is an impossible movie to recommend. I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would, but I won’t watch it again.

Why to watch Martyrs: It’s the epitome of the New French Extremity.
Why not to watch: Just…ick.


  1. This is how I felt about it: perhaps seeing more extreme films before this have slightly inoculated me against its gory aspects. I did appreciate the way the plot kept you guessing what was going to happen next; I hadn't read the synopsis beforehand, so felt surprised by the progression of the story.

    Unpleasant yes, but I've seen worse, and from non-horror films too.

    1. I probably have as well, but that didn't change the fact that this affected me very specifically.